The Conversation Booth is a pop-up sound installation that invites visitors to record themselves discussing a particular topic or question. Their responses are automatically archived by a computer program and recomposed as part of a living speech collage heard on wireless headphones at the installation and later at this website. The Conversation Booth is a participatory art project that could not exist without the contribution of its users; it is simply an empty shell designed to facilitate interaction, with it’s content and meaning created by those who speak.
The project emerged in 2017 during work on public art and heritage projects with an oral history and community engagement focus. It responds to the need for a neutral and safe space to allow informal conversations between members of a community to flourish. As such The Conversation Booth is a tool for collecting stories and social opinion but also mediates public voices democratically and promotes user agency in the recording process. Contrary to the traditional interviewer-interviewee dynamic, conversations are intended to be supportive and collaborative. The booth is not bugged to capture everything that is said and instead, visitors are given the agency to control audio recording themselves via a dedicated switch. The task of curating and presenting the material is handed to a computer algorithm that selects phrases of speech at random from the archive to be juxtaposed in the speech collage. The project explores the role of technology in mediating discussion and the extent to which we can gather a consensus of opinion or coherent sense of meaning by presenting the archive as a collage.
The Conversation Booth is most often used as a tool for community engagement but is appropriate to many different applications and venues. Where possible the topic for discussion is community led and for the booth’s installation at 310 New Cross Road, the question ‘Is Gentrification a Problem Here?’ was submitted and chosen by visitors in advance. The booth has also been used to reach out to migrant communities in London and as part of Windrush anniversary celebrations in 2018. Visitors were asked to tell a ‘Story of Arrival in London’ at London City Hall and to discuss ‘Africa in London’ as part of Africa Utopia Festival at London’s Southbank Centre.
The Conversation Booth is designed and programmed by sound artist Nicole Robson in collaboration with arts producer Olivia Bellas. Many thanks to Goldsmiths Alumni and Friends Fund for their funding in March 2018 and to the Greater London Authority for their continued support. To find out more or to organise an installation, please get in touch.